In 2010 the Chair of Design as Politics was invited to take part in the 5th International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam (IABR) ‘Making City’. Our contribution focused on the use of urban planning and architecture in reaching urban political goals. The Dutch Randstad, Rotterdam, Istanbul, Sao Paolo and Detroit were the test cases.
In preparation to the chair’s contribution we established a number of research and design studios around the biennale’s theme of ‘Making City’, examining the relationship between design and politics. We took a critical look at the potential contributions of architecture and urban planning to the problems facing contemporary cities. Focusing in particular on the export of Dutch ideas about planning and design to cities abroad and the value attributed to the application of these ideas. This resulted in an exhibition in the recently transformed Hofbogen, the former Rotterdam Hofplein train station. the exhibition was composed out of three parts.
1. The city is politics
The city is politics. The city is the place where money, power, business, culture, religion and leisure come together, each fighting for primacy. That is why architects and urban planners need to make careful choices in their design and planning. For example, Andrea Bagnato incorporates residential properties as a counterweight to the corporate and one-sided character of the City of London. Ekim Tan aims to place the ownership of urban development in Istanbul in the hands of local residents rather than major state organisations. They adopt a position for or against the financial sector, for or against citizens building their own homes and for or against the motorway. The Design as Politics exhibition provides a showcase for six designers who dare to take a clear position in the ongoing urban conflict.
2. Fighting for the city
Why is it that a beautiful new urban project can lead to the demise of an entire existing city district? Why are the Olympic Games causing social unrest in the deprived areas of London? And how are political uprisings, such as the Iranian revolution, ruining major architectural projects – in this case Victor Gruen’s modernist master plan for Tehran? In the exhibition ‘Design as Politics’, visitors can experience the day-to-day struggles for the city through three-dimensional images.
3. Soundtrack to the urban conflict
Over the years, popular music has also added colour to urban politics, from Marvin Gaye’s ‘Inner City Blues’ and The Clash’s ‘Guns of Brixton’ to the Grime music that accompanied the London riots of 2011. Musical pioneers create sound that reflects urban politics. The ‘Design as Politics’ exhibition also highlights this ‘soundtrack to the urban conflict’.